Scientific background

Removing or blocking an external factor causing disease can directly help to treat the illness. Monoclonal antibodies are able to neutralize the coronavirus and therefor can be used as a therapy for COVID-19. Additionally, various disorders are the result of ‘mistakes’ by our own body. When diseases are caused by a problem within our own cellular system, the solution is generally not that simple.

The struggle to find a cure is clearly visible within the field of cancer. The World Health Organization has reported that an estimated 9.6 million people have died of cancer in 2018 (1). Although the underlying problem is well established to be uncontrolled cell proliferation, a general solution has not been discovered. The identification of subtypes within a disease, with different backgrounds and responses to treatment has made us realize its true complexity. With the increasing fundamental knowledge about cancer and all its subtypes, novel strategies have been and will be developed to finally defeat this disease.

Unlike the lack of response observed towards uncontrolled tumor cells in cancer, an overactive immune system can also cause severe health problems. Autoimmune diseases are the result of an immune system which is attacking a body’s own organs and cells. Similar to cancer, research has revealed the complex nature of auto-immunity, and more than 80 different disease subtypes have currently been described. Well known examples include diseases such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus. New insights into the background of these diseases will help us to develop novel strategies to steer the immune system back in line.

Various interesting hypotheses are currently being explored for their potential to treat diseases such as cancer and autoimmunity. One promising strategy involves proteins located on the surface of cells. These membrane-bound proteins are extremely interesting targets due to their accessibility. These proteins can be targeted by antibodies. These antibodies can interfere with endogenous protein function or guide a specific compound to a certain cell population. Intriguingly, selecting the right protein is key and will have a significant influence on the chances of developing a successful diagnostic tool or therapeutic method for the clinic.

1. World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Globocan 2018; Ferlay J, Colombet M, Soerjomataram I, Mathers C, Parkin DM, Piñeros M, Znaor A, Bray F. Estimating the global cancer incidence and mortality in 2018: GLOBOCAN sources and methods. Int J Cancer 2019, 144:1941-1953.